Pre-Budget boost for Chancellor as unemployment falls again

Employment has reached a record high of 31.4 million after an increase of 116,000 in the latest quar

Employment has reached a record high of 31.4 million after an increase of 116,000 in the latest quarter, according to the Office for National Statistics. - Credit: PA

Chancellor George Osborne received a Budget Day boost today as official figures showed a further fall in unemployment and a record number of people in work.

Total unemployment fell by 28,000 in the three months to January to 1.68million, the sixth consecutive quarterly fall.

And the narrower count of those eligible to claim unemployment-related benefits fell by 18,000 on a seasonally adjusted basis last month to 716,700, its lowest since 1975.

Employment, meanwhile, reached a record high of 31.4m after an increase of 116,000 in the latest quarter, with the number of people in work having now risen by almost 500,000 in the past year.

However, at local level, where the claimant count figures are not seasonally adjusted, there was a mixed picture last month, with totals falling compared with January in most parts of Suffolk but rising across much of north Essex.

In Suffolk, the biggest fall was in Ipswich where the count fell by 39 to 1,581 and the local unemployment rate by 0.1 of a percentage point to 1.8%.

Smaller falls left the rates unchanged in Babergh, down six to 357 (0.7%), Forest Heath, down 23 to 260 (0.7%), Mid Suffolk, down 13 to 352 (0.6%, Suffolk Coastal, down four to 298 (0.4%) and Waveney, down six to 1,011 (1.5%).

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St Edmundsbury, however, saw the local claimant count increase by 18 to 496, although this also left the rate unchanged, at 0.7%.

In north Essex, the biggest increase was in Colchester where the count grew by 39 to 1,232 and the rate by 0.1% to 1.1%, while smaller increases left the rates unchanged in Braintree, up three to 930 (1.0%), Chelmsford, up 30 to 1,067 (1.0%), and Tendring, up 36 to 1,713 (2.2%).

However, there were small falls, again leaving the rates unchanged, in Maldon, down three to 296 (0.8%), and Uttlesford, also down three, to 233 (0.5%).

Today’s figures from the Office for National Statistics also showed an increase of 10,000 in the number of job vacancies to 768,000 while average earnings increased by 2.1% in the year to January, up 0.2% compared with the previous month.

Other figures revealed a 177,000 increase in part-time workers to almost 8.5m in the past year. The number of people classed as economically inactive, including those on long-term sick leave, looking after a relative or who have given up looking for work, fell by 40,000 to just under 8.9m, a near-record low rate of 21.8%.

ONS statistician Nick Palmer said: “Once again the latest quarterly figures show continuing high employment levels but no significant pick-up in earnings growth.”